James Gault reviews Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor
This is a brilliantly written novel; but it is also a book which struggled to keep my attention.
Written by a creative writing professor, long-listed for the Man Booker and winner of the Costa Book Prize, the reader expects scintillating and inventive writing, and this work does not disappoint. In this story of a village surviving under the dark cloud of the disappearance of a young girl, the author paints beautiful imagery and engrossing characters on a canvas of a writing style that breaks all the rules. He tells and not shows. He favours indirect to direct speech. He wallows in the passive voice. The incidents are delivered in a journalistic fashion without any great detail. Overall, the reader gets the impression of being given privileged access to the local gossip.
However, the distance imposed by this innovative style has to overcome the problems which creative writing classes and books warn authors about. If we only hear about the characters rather than actually meet them, it becomes hard to get to love (or even hate) them. Does McGregor overcome this obstacle? In some sense he does, although he has to cheat a little. He is forced to use long sections of direct dialogue which he camouflages as indirect speech by just leaving out the quotation marks. He gets away with it; we finally get into the characters and only the most pedantic of readers (like me) spot the subterfuge.
For me, this is a book that is nearly prefect but just doesn’t quite get there. A mystery, but not enough mystery. A slice of country lifestyle, but not enough excitement. Interesting characters, but I can’t quite get into them. It’s certainly a worthwhile read, but don’t be too picky about it.
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